August 02, 2023

Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevityβ„’ count: 1,065 words ... 4 minutes.

πŸ“Έ Situational awareness: Former President Trump will have his mugshot taken if he's indicted in Fulton County's investigation into efforts to interfere in Georgia's 2020 election, the county's sheriff told a local Atlanta TV station.

1 big thing β€” Trump's "delusion" defense

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Trump's legal team is teasing a risky defense to his historic third indictment:

  • It's the idea that the former president genuinely believed his own lies about election fraud β€” despite being told by dozens of his closest advisers, allies and agencies that they were baseless.

Why it matters: If they proceed to trial, Trump's lawyers effectively could be asking a jury to believe that the former president was delusional β€” undermining special counsel Jack Smith's core thesis that Trump "knowingly" sought to defraud the country.

  • The gambit could prove successful in court, where an already unfurling debate over the First Amendment is expected to play a starring role.
  • Politically, however, the "delusion defense" would force Republicans into the uncomfortable position of defending a candidate who can't be trusted to distinguish reality from conspiracy β€” and who now wants to be president again.

Driving the news: The indictment details many occasions in which top officials and lawyers explained to Trump that his theories β€” ranging from dead people voting to machines altering votes to foreign interference β€” were baseless.

  • As official campaign staffers grew frustrated, Trump increasingly began listening to conspiracy theorists such as Sidney Powell, whose attorneys said in response to a 2021 defamation lawsuit that "no reasonable person" would believe her bizarre claims were "truly statements of fact."
  • "I'll obviously hustle to help on all fronts, but it's tough to own any of this when it's all just conspiracy sh*t beamed down from the mothership," a senior campaign official β€” who repeatedly told Trump his claims were untrue β€” wrote in an email on Dec. 8, 2020.
  • Even Trump, the indictment alleges, privately acknowledged in December that Powell's claims about voting machine conspiracies sounded "crazy."

What they're saying: "I would like [prosecutors] to try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump believed that these allegations were false," Trump attorney John Lauro said on Fox News last night.

  • "No sitting president has ever been criminally charged for his views, for taking a position," he added.
Via Truth Social

What to watch: Citing the subpoena power that Trump's lawyers will be entitled to in the discovery process, Lauro pledged to "re-litigate every single issue in the 2020 election."

  • In other words, the Trump team may use his criminal trial to once again try to prove there was election fraud β€” and thereby de-fang Smith's charges.
  • Remember: More than 60 election lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies were tossed out of court in the weeks after the election.

The bottom line: The House Jan. 6 committee hearings last summer gave Republicans a taste of the coming spectacle in federal court. The subsequent defeat of Trump-backed election deniers in the midterms likely has GOP leaders once again bracing for impact.

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2. πŸ’₯ "Off the Rails" revisited

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Getty Images photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, George Frey/Bloomberg

Key details from the Jan. 6 indictment were first reported in "Off the Rails," a special Axios long-form series published in January 2021 that raised the curtain on the final, chaotic days of the Trump presidency.

Excerpts from the first three episodes:

  1. A premeditated lie lit the fire: "For weeks, Trump had been laying the groundwork to declare victory on election night β€” even if he lost. But the real-time results, punctuated by Fox News' shocking call of Arizona for Biden, upended his plans and began his unraveling."
  2. Barbarians at the Oval: "The White House became a strange ghost town in the days after the election. ... In conversations in the Oval Office, Trump would occasionally slip and seem to acknowledge he lost, saying, "Can you believe I lost to that f***ing guy? That f***ing corpse?"
  3. Descent into madness: "Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

Full episode library

The latest: Former Vice President Mike Pence unleashed some of his harshest criticism yet in response to Trump's defense of his post-election pressure campaign, telling Fox News that the then-president and "his gaggle of crackpot lawyers" asked Pence to "literally reject votes" on Jan. 6.

3. ✍️ Anti-No Labels pledge

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has teased a possible third-party presidential run. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Two Democratic groups β€” the centrist Third Way and the progressive MoveOn β€” are trying to build a public pressure campaign to make it difficult for an independent "No Labels" presidential bid to gain any traction, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

Driving the news: After briefing House and Senate chiefs of staff last week on how a No Labels' bid is likely to spoil the election for Biden, the groups followed up yesterday by asking the staffers to convince their bosses to publicly denounce the effort.

  • "We, the undersigned elected officials, recognizing the urgent and unique threat to democracy in the form of right-wing extremism on the ballot in 2024, call on No Labels to halt their irresponsible efforts to launch a third-party candidacy," reads the statement for the lawmakers' signatures.

Between the lines: Third Way and MoveOn are agnostic on how lawmakers announce their opposition.

  • For elected officials who tend not to sign proclamations like this, the groups are urging them to issue independent statements or take to social media to make their opposition clear.
  • So far, Third Way is tracking more than 30 statements from Democratic lawmakers that have raised serious concerns or denounced No Label's plans.

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4. πŸ“Ί Trump dines with Fox

Screenshot: Fox News

Shortly after learning of his indictment, Trump dined last night with Fox News executives Jay Wallace and Suzanne Scott, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Wallace and Scott lobbied Trump to attend the Fox-hosted Republican debate on Aug. 23, which the former president has suggested he plans to skip.

  • The Fox execs told Trump he "excels on the debate stage" as part of their "soft appeal," according to the Times.
  • Trump, who has routinely attacked Fox for what he perceives as favorable coverage of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said he hasn't made a decision and would keep an open mind.

πŸ“¬ Thanks for reading tonight. This newsletter was copy edited by Kathie Bozanich.